There are many manufacturers of lifejackets, PFDs and immersion suits. Some specialize in PFDs for certain activities such as paddling or yachting, others are concentrating on working gear for professional mariners, but most have a full range of lifesaving products.
The PFDMA (Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association) has member manufacturing companies from all over North America and it is a division supported by the NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Association).
Lifejacket manufacturers work on research and development of new products to specific standards set (in Canada) by the Canadian General Standards Board. In their design and manufacturing process they utilize their own testing faculties and the Underwriters Laboratories (of Canada) to ensure compliance with design and construction standards. After final testing by ULC, lifejackets and PFDs are approved by Transport Canada and the manufacturers can place the official approval label on their products.
It is important to note that because of recent changes in federal department organization many PFDs still bear approval labels of the Canadian Coast Guard. These are legal and acceptable under the regulations as long as they are still in fully serviceable condition.
Three requirements -visibility, high flotation and self-righting ability- have produced the traditional lifejacket design. Effective for emergency situations off-shore, the amount of flotation material required and where it is placed on the body to turn and keep a face out of the water means that it tends to be bulky.
Generally these devices were intended for large ships or boats where there it was considered there would be some advance warning of the need to "don lifejackets" and enter small lifeboats or survival rafts in the event of imminent capsize, sinking or a fire onboard the vessel. Storm conditions where someone might be swept overboard or work situations outside of railings, cabins and such other safety measures are also situations where lifejackets historically were recognized as needing to be worn. These traditional lifejackets were sufficiently bulky that it was not considered practical for passengers or crew to wear them all the time.
More recently it was recognized that on inland waters, boaters in small vessels faced a different set of conditions. Many people were drowning after a simple fall overboard or sudden capsize of a boat.
Regardless of good swimming ability, and even in calm conditions close to shore, victims who found themselves in the water unexpectedly were drowning in the first seconds and minutes after immersion. Those who studied the causes and contributing factors of these incidents concluded that a new approach to lifejackets was needed. These boaters required comfortable flotation protection that could reasonably be worn at all times. Thus, the personal flotation device (PFD) was created and eventually approved for use under certain conditions.
In Canada the Canada Shipping Act evolved to set out the standards for the carriage of safety and lifesaving equipment and the Coast Guard was traditionally responsible for these regulations. Transport Canada and the Canadian General Standards Board set the design requirements, approve lifejackets and as of 2004, Transport Canada is the federal department responsible for the approval and regulation of all lifejackets and personal flotation devices.
In Canada the standards to which approved flotation devices (including lifejackets, PFDs and survival immersion suits) are made, are established, maintained, and occasionally amended by the Canadian General Standard Board. The Standard is a highly detailed document that specifies exact design requirements for the different classes of lifejackets and the choices of approved components that manufacturers must use. The Underwriters Laboratories of Canada test the manufactured product before it can be approved by Transport Canada.
Development and testing of lifejackets and PFDs is carried out by a number of private research facilities for designers and manufacturers.
Testing to the official Standard (which in Canada is set by the Canadian General Standards Board) is done by only one facility, the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada.
They test for the durability, flammability and ripstop of materials, the flotation characteristics of each design (including flotation angle and freeboard,) strength of seams, buckles, zippers, the CO2 mechanism of inflatables, and many other aspects of design and function.
Manufacturers also use test facilities in the development of new products for new patents and also to adapt for international standards for export.
Approved devices that fulfil the legal requirement for lifejackets and PFD's carry an approval label permanently affixed to the device.
In Canada, design and manufacture are tested by the independent Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) before being approved by Transport Canada, a department of the federal government. Until recently approvals were also given by the Canadian Coast Guard. Many current lifejackets and PFD's carry this Coast Guard approved label and are legal as long as they are in good serviceable condition and fit the person who would be wearing them.
Flotation seat cushions are not longer approved.
For more detailed information contained within this site on approvals, testing and regulations.
IT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO READ THE LABEL & TAGS THAT COME WITH YOUR LIFEJACKET.
SOME PFDs ARE NOT APPROVED FOR CERTAIN ACTIVITIES.
SIZE AND WEIGHT CHARACTERISTICS ARE VITAL.